No Impact Man is a documentary that can mean different things to different people. At the forefront is Colin Beavanís quest to go for an entire year without making an impact on the environment. He not only plans on doing this seemingly crazy task but is also dragging his family along with him.
The documentary is based on the blog turned book by Beavan, a professional writer, and the first thing that comes to mind is whether the man is serious about this topic or is he doing it for the money and publicity. The documentary starts with that question being asked as we see him take part on various news shows, including an appearance on the Colbert Report.
One of the biggest problems with being a writer in the Internet era is there are thousands of people who believe they know more than you. A person can be the biggest expert on their subject and there are still hundreds of keyboard warriors who think they are smarter. The first problem Colin faced was dragging his wife and young daughter on this mission. While his wife Michelle gave her full support in the start, things began to get worrisome when they received hundreds of comments on his blog, many hateful, casting doubts on his motives. Michelle wondered why they were so hated for doing something they believe is right for the environment.
That is the biggest theme running throughout this documentary. When one man, or one family, decides to do something radical for the good of the community, they always face the scrutiny of people not willing to give up their cappuccinos or SUVís. Who the hell are these people who are actually willing to do something to help the environment when I am not willing to make any sacrifices?
A rundown of the many sacrifices Colin and his family made includes giving up all carbon based transportation, producing no trash, purchasing no new goods except for food grown within a 250-mile radius, using no paper products and in month six, killing their electricity.
The start of the documentary makes you feel sorry for his wife, dragged along on this mission, supporting her husband but never looking happy doing it. However, things begin to change when you realize many of the changes are for the better. She found her body was nearing diabetic levels if she did not change her diet soon and the No Impact changes helped her become healthier. She admits to having an addiction to caffeine and reality television, two things that must be eliminated from her daily life for this mission. She is a shopaholic and must curb her desire to buy yet another purse. While some of the restrictions seem harmful and others mean spirited, many of them prove helpful.
It does not help that Colin comes across as a self centered jerk at many points. It is clear he loves his wife and child, but he seems steadfast in his opinions and when another viewpoint is offered, he starts to pout. The man has a lot of passion for this project and, despite criticism that he is only doing it for money, by the end has an even greater appreciation for the work he is doing.
There are a number of things that make me question his complete dedication to the project. He uses solar panels to allow just enough electricity to use his laptop and record his blog, an implication that he will do what is needed to either (a) get his views out there or (b) make sure his book will get sold. While he is willing to use his laptop, the use of a refrigerator is not a necessity to the household. He has outlawed vacations for the year because they are not using carbon based transportation but makes an exception when they take a train, of all things, to visit a local farm.
Part of Colin and Michelleís personal lives are brought in to the feature, both with her admitting she cheats on occasions as well as her admission that she supports Colinís goals but does not feel he returns the consideration. Her dream is to have another child, something Colin steadfastly refuses to accept. Before the year is finished, he relents but she does not get pregnant and the pain and hurt is evident in her eyes when she discusses how life always leaves these loose ends.
The documentary also looks at things that may be necessary despite their effects on the environment. A farmer admits that he is not supportive of completely organic products for a very good reason. He loves his cows and if one of them grows ill he is not willing to let them die just to keep the product completely organic. There is also a paradox as a sixties era hippie discusses the hypocrisy of the fact Colin and his wife are going No Impact while Michelleís daytime job is as a writer for Business Week, since capitalism is what led the country to this point anyway.
The entire point of this journey is not to tell a person they need to give up everything they love to protect the environment. Colin admits if a person only does one thing he suggests, they volunteer for an environmental organization. What that person learns is more important than giving up television for one week. Or even that delicious espresso.
The 411: While the documentary drags at times, No Impact Man gives people a look at what they can cut back on to help the environment without ever having to make such a drastic change themselves. While not everyone will be content to give up their electricity and some areas of the country make it impossible to give up transportation, there are other ideas here to take into account. Are you able to use cloth diapers instead of disposables? Is it better for you to cut out on the fast food nation and eat at home? The most important change in the quality of life for the Beavan family is this experiment helped them move closer together. They spent more time outdoors as a family and exchanged television for games. Colin Beavan may or may not have been doing this for the money but, at the end, the improvement to his familyís quality of life was well worth the effort.